Analysis / Philadelphia Union II

Midseason Union II roster review, part one: The amateurs

Photo: Ben Ross

Customarily, “midseason” is a good time to take stock of Keystone Sports and Entertainment’s professional-level developmental soccer team — what is now Philadelphia Union II.

The pandemic and Union II’s withdrawal from the USL Championship reduced the knowledge of the team available to the public for well over a year. The reduction desiccated knowledge of how the development program works.

In part to re-hydrate that knowledge and in part to subdivide a task otherwise massive for writers and readers (33 individuals) 2022’s midseason roster review will appear in three parts beginning today.

To create every separate 20-person game-day roster, the team draws players from three sources.

  1. First team professionals. Union first team players who practice with the first team daily but come down to receive game minutes with Union II. (10)
  2. Second-team professionals. Union II contracted players. (9)
  3. Amateurs. Union academy U17 and Union Developmental Squad players who play and practice exclusively or primarily with Union II on so-called zero-dollar contracts that preserve their amateur standing for future NCAA play. (14)

We subdivide the review project accordingly, beginning with the amateurs.

UDS/U17s

Player

G

Age

Pos

Boubacar Diallo

8

20.0

LM

Anthony Ramirez

0

17.6

RM

Ian Abbey

7

18.1

LM

Jack Jasinski

3

18.1

RM

Jackson Gilman

7

18.1

RB

Damian Alguera

0

18.3

GK

Frank Westfield

7

16.4

RB

Bajung Darboe

5

15.5

AM

The central principle of the Philadelphia Union’s player development philosophy is that actual game minutes are the developmental commodity for which there is no substitute.

A second principls is that first-teamers always start.

The amateurs

Union Academy graduation approaches, and graduation turns over the amateur segment of Union II’s player pool from one senior class to the next. Our roster review begins with those impending graduations. First and second team contracted professionals will continue with the side. Unsigned current Academy seniors will not.

During one media availability this spring, Union II head coach Marlon LeBlanc was asked to advise the almost-graduates what they should think and do as they go off to new soccer and intellectual adventures. LeBlanc is a current Union Academy parent. During 2020’s midseason he became Union II’s interim replacement head coach and has stuck.

Most recently he served for 14 years as West Virginia University’s head men’s soccer coach, having been named Soccer America’s Coach of the Year for his first Mountaineers’ season back in 2006. Prior to that he had been an assistant where he himself had played NCAA soccer, at Penn State.

LeBlanc’s instantaneous first response to the pending graduates was to tell them to enjoy it.

He said it is a new journey, with new challenges. The grads have all selected great schools with great coaches and excellent teams. A key to their future successes both athletic and intellectual will be adaptability.

LeBlanc encourages them that the preparation they have received at the Union’s academy both athletically and academically has been excellent. They are well-prepared to succeed.

  • They have already experienced travel comparable to that of any major university program, including maintaining classwork remotely for days at a time during road trips.
  • They have experienced training every bit as demanding as the new programs they now enter.
  • They will repeatedly play under the pressures of large crowds in big games in special stadiums, but they have already faced the pressures of playing in front of sporting directors, agents, and national team scouts, so handling pressure is familiar.
  • They are well-educated academically via a strong college-preparatory classroom program.

The list below is the Philadelphia Union Academy’s graduating senior class as provided by YSC Academy Head of School Dr. Nooha Ahmed-Lee.

Class of 2022
Paxten Aaronson Philadelphia Union
Ian Justin Abbey Rutgers University
Edgar Damian Alguera-Mercado Undecided
Brandan Andrew Craig Philadelphia Union
Samuel Adrian Fenton Dartmouth College
Jackson Arthur Gilman University of Pittsburgh
Jack Christopher Jasinski Princeton University
Samuel Jones Wake Forest University
Ryan Anthony Lau Boston University
Owen Maxwell Moore Liberty University
Kleberson Williams Pereira Penn State University
Anthony Sorenson Philadelphia Union
Quinn Sullivan Philadelphia Union
Ian Robert Turnbull Coastal Carolina University
Reviews

Below PSP briefly discusses the amateur and academy players who have played for Union II, both seniors and underclassmen. All first-teamers, not just the four above, and the nine Union II pros will be reviewed later.

Boubacar Diallo is an amateur playing with Union II who is not enrolled in the Union Academy’s school house. He is not graduating from high school this June.

Officially, he is rostered to the Union Developmental Squad, a team that plays an independent local schedule and is coached by long-time Union Academy coach Fred da Silva. Examples of local teams UDS plays are Philadelphia Lone Star and West Chester United Predators. He is on an amateur contract.

Unofficially, Diallo is part of the Union II practice group. He is a 20-year-old midfielder from Senegal, West Africa. (His father Amadou Diallo played as a striker for the Tampa Bay Mutiny alongside Carlos Valderama in 2000 and 2001.) The younger Diallo holds an American passport and speaks perfect English according to his coach.

He has appeared in every Union II match this season, four starts and four substitutions. He scored the team’s third goal in the first match away in Miami. Offensively he is effective at the MLS Next Pro level and perhaps above it.

But Diallo’s defensive skills lag his offensive ones, especially those that depend on athleticism and physicality. He has plenty of pace, agility, flexibility, and technical skill but seems not yet to “stick himself in” defensively, especially with the force and determination necessary to play in Major League Soccer. To play for Jim Curtin his defensive edge and bite — the physical force with which he plays the game — must increase.

On to the almost graduates.

Almost two full years ago, graduating senior Jack Jasinski burst onto the Union II scene by scoring a winning goal against New York Red Bull II in LeBlanc’s first game. Subsequently, he has earned the sobriquet “Swiss Army Knife,” since he has appeared as a center back, a right back, a defensive mid, a right mid, and a striker. In 2021’s season finale right mid Jasinski scored the only – therefore winning – goal against a New York City FC reserve side that featured $25 million of first-team attacking talent.

Ian Abbey has featured at left mid, right mid, attacking mid, and striker. A experimental sojourn at outside back did not work and has been scrapped. Abbey brings pace, energy, and technical skill to his matches. He has come off the bench for substantial minutes in all save one Union II match in 2022.

Jackson Gilman is 2022’s most versatile Union II defender. He has started at least once at all four defensive field player positions and had appeared in every match until Rochester. Although by convention he is undersized for a center back, his anticipation and pace allow him to cut out his mark’s service thus avoiding repetitively physical battle. He has pace sufficient to recover against service into the green spaces behind Union II’s high restraining line. And he has a knack for winning head balls.

His abilities both to attack in the outside channels one versus one and to deliver long passes precisely from anywhere in the defense remain opportunities for improvement.

Diallo, Jasinski, Abbey, and Gilman have received the most Union II appearances and minutes among the amateur group.

Throughout the professional level organization Union goalkeepers do not substitute unless there is a disaster. Hence reserves suffer from reserve goalkeeper syndrome. Damian Alguera has neither a minute nor an appearance in 2022. Notably he was rostered to El Salvador’s senior men’s national team during both January’s and March’s Concacaf FIFA World Cup qualifiers. He was the backup keeper.

His bilingual abilities have been most helpful to his four professional Spanish-speaking teammates with lesser English.

Samuel Fenton played in the Union II’s matches in Colombia in October of 2021, the youth tournament that started with two victories and ended prematurely with a middle-of-the-night hotel fire and successful evacuation.

Samuel Jones played center back for Union II when it played its independent schedule in 2021. As is coach LeBlanc’s pedagogical practice, sometimes he played defensive center mid as well. He scored what amounted to a bicycle kick goal in one of the matches in Colombia.

Ryan Lau appears to have never appeared in or dressed for a Philadelphia Union II match.

Goalkeeper Owen Moore suffers from the reserve keeper syndrome explained above. He has dressed for the game-day bench more than once and practices frequently with the squad.

Kleberson Pereira started both games of the Colombia tournament last October at right back, effectively.

Ian Turnbull joins Alguera and Moore as a sufferer from reserve goalkeeper syndrome. All three deserve full credit for their directly observed hard work in practice and constant good cheer as teammates while awaiting future opportunity.

There are also three Academy underclassmen in the Union II group.

Frank Westfield is a 16.4-year-old right back from Philadelphia. He first became known to PSP during the independent season of 2021 when he was only 15. LeBlanc has said that he warned Westfield earlier this year that he was going to coach him and push him this season, unlike last when he let the young man acclimate and learn on his own.

That sounds as though both brain trusts, the academy and the professional technical staff, want to find out exactly how far he can grow. LeBlanc is now to cajole, demand, instruct and remediate.

Westfield has one introductory cameo substitution, six starts, and an absence with the U17s during the GA Cup among Union II’s eight 2022 games. The cameo substitution saw him play as a defensive midfielder helping to close out a match. The starts have been at right back. At first they alternated chronologically between going the full 90 and being subbed off, first at halftime and next at roughly the 60th minute.  Now Westfield goes 90 every time. Earnie Stewart would have said that an engine is being built.

Bajung Darboe is a 15.5-year-old attacking midfielder. During 2022’s first-team preseason he appeared as a substitute attacker.

Also during preseason, he appeared at Bayern Munich’s youth academy in Bavaria, but at an unknown level. The minimum conclusion is that Germany’s perennial power allowed him to come. We do not know who initiated the encounter, nor do we know who paid for the plane tickets.

With Union II this season Darboe’s sequence of dressing, appearing, and starting demonstrates the Union’s classic developmental sequence. He dressed for the first two games, missed the next for the GA Cup, then substituted on twice, effectively for the most part.  Then he debuted as a starter, cramping up in the 81st minute and having to come off. He followed the start with another, coming off earlier before he cramped. (See — Stewart, Earnie: Engine-building.) He subbed on for the last half hour against Rochester’s formidable defensive central midfield double pivot.

Darboe shows himself knowledgeable, technically skilled, pacey, and effective. His gegenpress imitation of the human immune system’s white blood cells does not yet match Brenden Aaronson’s by the time Aaronson was leaving for Red Bull Salzburg. But statistics cited by LeBlanc from the young attacker’s first start — turnovers created in Miami II’s half – suggest an affinity for Aaronson’s phagocyte-like behavior.

As a sub the youngster defended credibly in the outside channel against both opponents. The only defensive appearance drawing poor reviews was the improvisational late-game replacement of Cole Turner at defensive center mid when Turner had to drop to center back to replace a cramping Nathan Nkanji. Darboe is not a DM.

As anyone who saw the Cincinnati, Montreal, and Nashville first-team preseason broadcasts knows, Darboe played offense with the Union seamlessly. The videos tweeted from the visit to Bavaria as well as his father’s own reports join the reports and clips from the GA Cup to indicate the young man’s considerable attacking upside.

The eyeball test, the only data available to the public, suggests that his ground covered and his sprints’ lengths, intensities, and frequencies — the data so loved by the Union technical staff — are all more than satisfactory, especially for someone his age.

Currently, Darboe practices with Union II. As our review makes clear, he is known beyond the boundaries of Keystone Sports’ organization. That will affect the Union’s handling of him.

There is less to discuss about the last of the Academy underclassmen, 17.6-year-old attacking midfielder Anthony Ramirez from El Salvador. Last October in Colombia in the second match of the tournament he fired an artillery shell into an upper corner from outside the penalty box for a golazo.

LeBlanc has made it clear that Ramirez is part of the Union II group.

As mentioned in an earlier match report, he picked up an unspecified hip injury while called in to an El Salvador World Cup qualifier camp in January and has been recovering health and fitness ever since. He has progressed enough to play “the Ilsinho role” in small-sided, unevenly numbered, attacking and defending games during practice.

The Ilsinho role means Ramirez always plays for the offense. In his case it is because he is not yet ready to survive sticking himself into a full-contact, all-out, high-speed defensive collision. This spring PSP has directly observed Ramirez’s steady progress from working on the side with trainers, to participating in non-contact drills, to the Ilsinho role described above. Once full contact becomes survivable developing game fitness will follow.

Ramirez travelled to Rochester and dressed for the bench, but did not play. Debut minutes are expected to follow in future.

At a recent practice, Ramirez participated with no restrictions in a full-field scrimmage of the A’s against the B’s that broke every seventh or eighth minute to replenish everyone’s wind and water. His pace, intensity, understanding, and defending stood out. Ramirez, Union II pro Carlos Paternina, and Darboe should have a highly competitive summer pushing each other for game minutes.

Since academically he is a student at the Academy where instruction is in English, we suspect that Ramirez, like Alguera, has been helpful to his four professional Spanish-speaking teammates.

4 Comments

  1. Andy Muenz says:

    Do you know if the graduates who are going to college will take time off between graduation and starting college or if they will continue to play with Union II over the summer?

  2. Tim Jones says:

    In the past there has been no single pattern, Andy.
    .
    Some have left immediately to enroll in summer school to get a leg up on assimilating academically and in all other ways save athletic. Mark McKenzie did that I believe I remember.
    .
    Others have played with Union II until the opening of their school’s NCAA training camp. Dante Huckaby did that last year.
    .
    I do not know what Gilman, Jasinski, and Abbey plan to do with their summers.

  3. The Chopper says:

    Diallo’s father was Mamadou Diallo. Big Mama netted an MLS leading 26 goals in the 2000 season.

  4. Joe McQuillan says:

    “phagocyte-like behavior” – What a unique description – Nice!

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